Rubber Man, by Allan McDonald (translation by Doug Zylstra)

For those who missed it: Political cartoonist Allan McDonald was one of the first individuals attacked by the coup regime; his house was ransacked and his cartoons burnt by the military one day after the coup. He was kidnapped by the military with this 17-month old daughter, Abril, and held incommunicado without food for over 24 hours before being released. See a photostream of his recent cartoons here. -AP

Rubber Man*
For Abril.

by Allan McDonald (translation by Doug Zylstra)

Before, when life was not yet in fashion, and the world was simply a road of drab brown stones, those were the years of the olive green jeep, Garduna chocolates, the Alliance for Progress which came to us as powdered milk for the poor children in my school, those were the fabulous '80s, the years when I would leave my house to fly kites against the wind that ran rampant through the sky, and listened to the older folks speak of a certain Custodio, a man of steel tempered by the heroism of openly taking the military to task and being our defender, the handkerchief to wipe the tears of a wounded democracy in that green era.

Time evaporated like a sunrise and we survived, like crabs on a beach of dead Pelicans, all of us who crossed the border of hope trying to arrive at the decade of the '90s.

I had just turned 17, a cartoonist from the very beginning and already working in the newspaper, publishing my daily cartoon, as always, and my humor page every Saturday, believing persistently that the destiny of rebellion points us toward the utopia of a better county. I have always thought that, always. And then one memorable afternoon, one of those so memorable that you store it away in the warehouse of the soul so that it can never be forgotten, I found myself walking through Barrio Los Dolores, on my way to the archives of the Committee for the Defense of Human Right, CODEH, which in those days was located there, where the shouts of frustrated market vendors mixed with the prayers of the church nearby, that other market of dried-out crucifixes.

I entered CODEH, and asked for help regarding some research I was doing on old cartoons. Looking through the yellowing papers, dust and light that seemed a storehouse of memories, I suddenly came face to face with Dr. Ramon Custodio, the legendary old man, with his mustache, like a leaf tangled up in the roots of its own tree, woven deeply into the skin of his battle-seasoned face. His being seemed centered on the movement of his hands that were tucked into his gray pants pockets, his white guayabera and his middle-aged hair flying like a suicidal seagull. He stuck his hand out. "Hey there, young man," he said, "I've been hoping to meet you for while now, say hello, share a coffee and talk about your work..." His words were tired, yet full of sincerity. We sat, talking about the difficult things going on in the country, the confusing transition from the political crisis to the economic one. Those were the years of Callejas, of corruption throughout the country. It seemed odd to him that, me still being only a teenager, in the year 1990, we could talk as in one of those old tales of old men and young kids. Saying goodbye, using the excuse of a made-up appointment, the Doctor put his hand on my shoulder and spoke the difficult words of a kind grandfather to his troublemaking grandson. I will never forget them:

"Look here, son, do you have kids?" I said no. Imagining my emotional lapses in the midst of a lost heart, I could never even dream of having one of my own. "Look, today you are a good cartoonist, strong, rebellious, but tomorrow, when you have your own children, you're going to forget about all this, and you'll think about normal things, about how to feed your kids, you'll see." He turned around and disappeared into the artificial light, between the dust and the papers which flew about like a forgotten carousel.

It's been almost 20 years since the day that I met with Don Ramon Custodio, and life went on for each of us, him doing his things and me, mine. I drew him a couple of times when he launched his independent candidacy for the Presidency. He failed to collect the necessary signatures to get on the ballot, a pantomime of democracy deemed necessary to enter the circus. Then I saw him one day in Technicolor in the Congress, raising his right hand in front of the group of flunkies that had picked him as the new National Commissioner on Human Rights, the class that detested him, that hated him, that had even put a price on his head; they were now giving him the prize for what the Doctor knew by memory, if not by feel.

Today, there are no words, no excuses, no curious young men, nor learned doctors. Today, in this de facto country, we are now face to face in the street, each with the peace of his dignity weighed down, those of us who march in the light of victory of true democracy of both struggles and noble acts to defend a lost homeland and those who shut themselves in their offices with fine mahogany desks, with drawers full of the moist dust of nostalgia fallen into disuse and the photo of our elected president taken down, ripped off the wall with servility, and with a new photo up, this time our spurious one. Behind is the flag, blue and white, hanging humbly on its pole, that simple flag which wraps itself around both the blind and the dumb, the lepers and the heroes who have fallen, face-forward, to the somber riot of resentment.

And now, there's the doctor on TV, all channels roadblocked with his press conference. He looks out, he whose face no longer even appears in the files of the CIA, saying that the dead don't exist, that the army uses only rubber bullets, that the innocence of the men of honor is evident, that perhaps it was a clumsy revolutionary type, someone who believes in that pale promise of homeland that shot a communist bullet and killed the young man at the airport. My friends- I, who have never touched a gun, who have never put up a photo of any president behind my desk, who have always drawn face-forward, I got up, scared, and ran to the crib of of young daughter, the girl that the doctor talked about 20 years ago, my little Abril. I covered her with my hands, I hugged her, I sang her a lullaby, I covered her eyes so that she would not see the man who I had so deeply admired and tell her that the doctor had once said: "Look, young man, when you have children, you'll see things differently." And it's true, I do think differently; with my daughter as counterweight, I should be rebellious, and I should have dignity until the end, so as not to become that man of rubber, no longer of steel, and that when the years go by, and my Abril begins to fly kites, she will think of me as the the man who did not betray her. It will rain on her that day, and she will not feel sad. And by then, my daughter will have a new country.

Allan McDonald

*Translators note - Don Ramon Custodio was inaugurated as Commissioner on Human Rights in Honduras in 2008. He has come out in favor of the Micheletti Government on what he says are "anti-establishment grounds', and many of his statements have been both a severe disappointment to the Honduran People who most are in need of a voice to declaim the Human Rights abuses of the de Facto government and a mechanism utilized by the Micheletti government to support their claims to constitutionality and legitimacy. His diplomatic visa was revoked two weeks ago by the US Department of State.

www.hondurascoup2009.blogspot.com has wonderful post/analysis of Don Ramon here.

Original
Para Abril.

Antes, cuando la vida no estaba de moda, y el mundo era un camino de piedras pardas, eran los años de los jeep verde olivo, de los chocolates a la garduña, de la alianza para el progreso que venía disfrazada de leche en polvo para los niños pobres de mi escuela, eran los fabulosos 80s, eran los años en que yo me salía de mi casa a volar barriletes frente al viento que corría desbocado por el cielo, y escuchaba a los viejos hablar de un tal Custodio, un hombre de acero, templado en el heroísmo de acusar abiertamente a los militares y de ser el defensor, el paño de lágrimas de la democracia herida en esa verde época.

El tiempo se fue evaporando como en un amanecer y sobrevivimos como cangrejos en una playa de alcatraces muertos todos los que cruzamos la frontera de la esperanza para llegar los años 90s.

Yo entonces cumplía los 17, caricaturista de siempre y ya trabajando en el diario, publicando perpetuamente mi caricatura diaria, y mi página de humor cada sábado, creyendo persistentemente que la utopía de un país mejor nos señale el destino de la rebelión, siempre pensé así, siempre; y en una tarde de esas memorables, de esas que uno cuida en el almacén del alma para que no caiga en el olvido, caminaba por el barrio los Dolores, rumbo a una hemeroteca del Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras: Codeh, que en ese entonces quedaba en esa zona, donde el mercado de gritos de vendedores frustrados que se revolvía con los rezos de la iglesia, ese otro mercado de crucifijos disecados.

Entré al Codeh y solicité ayuda para una investigación de caricaturas antiguas; buscaba entre papeles amarillentos, polvo y luz, aquello me parecía una bodega de recuerdos, de repente frente a mí se paró el doctor Ramón Custodio, el mítico viejo, con su bigote ensartado en la piel como una hoja enredada en las raíces de su rostro curtido de batallas, su mirada centrada en el movimiento de las manos que las tenia metidas en la bolsa del pantalón gris, una guayabera blanca y el pelo que lo volaba como una golondrina suicida en el verano de los años; me estrechó la mano - “Ajá muchacho, ya días quería conocerte, saludarte y tomar un café para que platiquemos mucho de tu trabajo…” me dijo él con palabras cansadas y llenas de sinceridad, nos sentamos hablamos de las cosas duras del país, de la transición confusa de la crisis política a la crisis económica, eran los años del callejismo, los de la robancina nacional, le parecía curioso que yo entonces, adolecente aun, en pleno año 90, bajo una lámpara escarchada de periódicos ya leídos, platicáramos como en una historieta de viejos y cipotes, al despedirse por esos apuros de las agendas inventadas por los curiosos del tiempo, el doctor me puso la mano en el hombro, y soltó esas palabras difíciles del abuelo bueno al nieto pendenciero, y nunca las olvidé:

“¿Mirá muchacho, tenés hijos?”, no respondí, imaginando mis lagunas emocionales en medio del corazón perdido y jamás en soñar como sería un hijo mío, “-Mirá muchacho, hoy sos un caricaturista bueno, fuerte, de mucha rebeldía, pero mañana, cuando tengás hijos, vas a olvidarte de todo esto, y pensarás en lo normal, en cómo darle de comer a los hijos, ya verás”, sentenció el abuelo bueno y dio esa media vuelta para perderse en la luz artificial entre el polvo y los papeles que volaban como en un carrusel ya de olvidos.

Han pasado, casi 20 años ya después de ese 1990 que me encontré con don Ramón, y en todo eso marcó la vida una historia en cada uno, el haciendo sus cosas y yo las mías, publicando una caricatura diaria; lo dibujé un par de de veces cuando lanzó su candidatura independiente a la presidencia, sin lograr reunir las firmas que la pantomima de la democracia exige para entrar al circo, y luego lo vi en tecnicolor dentro del congreso levantando la mano derecha ante la fauna de velones que lo elegían como el nuevo comisionado nacional de Derechos Humanos, aquella clase que lo detestaba, que lo odiaba y hasta había puesto precio a su cabeza, le daban el premio de esa materia que el doctor conocía de memoria, más que de tacto.

Hoy, que ya no hay palabras, ni excusas, ni muchachos curiosos, ni viejos doctos, hoy en pleno país de facto, en la calle frente a frente, cada uno con la paz de su dignidad a cuestas, los que marchamos en la luz de la victoria certera de una democracia de luchas y de actos nobles por defender la patria perdida, y los que se encierran en sus oficinas con escritorios de caoba fina, con gavetas llenas de polvos húmedos de la nostalgia caída en desuso, y la foto descolgada del presidente electo, y arrancada con servilismo y puesta la del espurio, y atrás esa banderita azul y blanco, humilde al pie del asta, sencilla mi bandera que envuelve a los sordos y a los ciegos, a los leprosos de miedo y los héroes caídos de frente al tolete soberbio del rencor.

Allí está el doctor en cadena nacional, con su mirada ya borrada del los archivos de la CIA, frente a los altavoces del sistema, diciendo que los muertos no existen, que el ejercito usa balas de hule, que la inocencia de los hombres de honor está probada, que a lo mejor un revoltoso torpe, que cree en esa pálida promesa de la patria se le disparó una bala comunista…. Ya ven amigos, yo que nunca he tocado un arma, yo que nunca he colocado detrás de mi mesa de dibujo la foto de ningún presidente, yo que siempre dibujé de frente, me he levantado asustado, corriendo a la cuna de mi pequeña hija, esa que el doctor anuncio 20 años atrás, la pequeña Abril, y la he cubierto con mis manos, la he abrazado, la he cantado una canción de amor, le he tapado los ojos para que no mire al hombre aquel que yo admiré tanto, y contarle a mi pequeña lo que el doctor decía, “mira muchacho cuando tengas tus hijos pensarás diferente”, y es verdad, pienso diferente, con mi hija a cuestas, debo ser rebelde, tener dignidad hasta el fin, para no convertirme en un hombre de hule, y cuando pasen los años y mi Abril pueda volar barriletes, pensará en mí, como aquel hombre que no traicionó, y lloverá ese día sobre ella y no se sentirá triste, ya para entonces, mi hija tendrá un nuevo país...

Allan McDonald

Comments

meaning of the title RUBBER MAN

The title may not be immediately clear for those who have not been following events in Honduras extremely closely.

Shortly after theHonduran Armed Forces snipers and soldiers fired live rounds of ammunition with rifles and machine guns into the unarmed multitude of protestors at the airport in Tegucigalpa on July 5th, 2009, killing 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo and wounding several others, longtime State Human Rights Commissioner Doctor Ramon Custodio Lopez stated to the media that only RUBBER bullets had been used…

Sandra Cuffe
http://HondurasSolidarity.wordpress.com